This collection offers three colorful, humorous ballets. It’s the ninth volume in a series which includes, on other discs, works by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Debussy, and Ravel. The entire “Diaghilev-Ballets Russes” series intends to highlight one surviving aspect of the artistic and cultural powerhouse that was the Ballets Russes. Where stagings evolve, records of choreography are lost, or dancers’ memories fall short, scores last and continue to recall this vital period in dance history.
First on the disc is Darius Milhaud’s Le Train Bleu, which premiered in Paris in 1924. The ballet was choreographed by Nijinska with costumes by Chanel. It illustrates with irony a set of light, sunny episodes at the beach—right in line with the carefree spirit of the “Roaring Twenties.” The ballet takes its name from that of a luxury train to the French Riviera. Milhaud’s work strongly influenced that of Copland and Bernstein, composers with whom today’s dance audience may be more familiar. Those roots are easy to hear in Le Train Bleu. The score also shares jazzy, humorous elements with the work of George Gershwin. Think “Rodeo” meets “Candide” meets “An American in Paris,” all tangled up in an exaggeratedly pompous Offenbach march.
Next is a suite of dances from Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur, Tomassini’s orchestration of five Scarlatti sonatas. The score was commissioned in 1917 for a ballet to be choreographed by Massine and designed by Bakst. Here again is a set of ebullient, joyful episodes. It’s easy to imagine the comedy that must have taken place onstage—the plot of the ballet, whose title translates to “The Good-Humored Women,” centers around games of romance in a small Italian town.
The third work in this collection is Henri Sauguet’s La Chatte, commissioned in 1927 for the Ballets Russes’ twentieth season—just one year before Diaghilev’s death. It was choreographed by Balanchine and designed by Naum Gabo and Anton Pevsner. Colorful and vibrant, La Chatte tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a cat. With Aphrodite’s help, the cat turns into a girl but is put to the test during a fantastic Scherzo when the goddess sends a mouse through the bedroom. The girl is unable to resist her instincts and chases the mouse; she is then transformed back into a cat.
This collection is enjoyable to listen to for its variety and brightness, in addition to being significant for its history.
Diaghilev-Ballets Russes Vol 9
SWR Music/Hanssler Classic
German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Reimer